Sunday, 19 March 2017

Rickmansworth parkrun

The town of Rickmansworth takes its name from the Saxon landowner 'Ryckmer' and 'worth' meaning farm or stockade. Over the years the name has recorded under at least nine different variations of the word, and finally settled on the current spelling many centuries ago.

The town sits in the Three Rivers District of Hertfordshire. The rivers Gade, Chess and Colne were crucial in the establishment of most of the town's traditional trades. Watercress was a major trade as it grew in abundance on the banks of the rivers. The rivers provided the power required for corn milling, silk weaving, paper making and brewing. All of these trades have now disappeared from the area.

rickmansworth parkrun

In the early 1920s, gravel, which was used in the construction of the original Wembley Stadium, was extracted from a site to the south of the town centre. When the gravel extraction ceased, the remaining holes filled with water from natural springs, forming lakes. Ever since the 1930s, there has been a history of sailing on them.

The lakes (Bury and Batchworth) are now part of the Rickmansworth Aquadrome which is a 41 acre Local Nature Reserve. They provide home to many waterfowl including herons, moorhens and swans, and host a variety of watersports including sailing, windsurfing, canoeing and water skiing. The rest of the reserve features areas of woodland and grassland which can be explored via a network of footpaths. There is also a cafe, dog-free picnic area and playground.

start / frogmoor lane

On 4th March 2017 the aquadrome became home to Rickmansworth parkrun, or as I heard a few of the locals say 'Ricky parkrun'. We travelled over to visit the venue on their third event and we parked in the car park which is just off Frogmoor Lane - it has space for 400 cars and is currently free-of-charge. The toilets and the cafe (Cafe in the Park) are located next to the car park as is the meeting and start point of the parkrun.

If we had travelled by public transport we would have taken the train to Rickmansworth station which is located a short walk away, in the town centre. Cyclists can secure their bikes to one of the many bicycle racks which are located outside the cafe.

bury lake circular walk path

Underfoot is a mixture of tarmac and slightly bumpy, stony footpaths - the surface is firm all around the course, so road shoes are the way to go. As it stands, at time of writing, the start-finish area is slightly different to the map on the official course page - I always record the course data using some kind of GPS device, so you can view the data if you want to see the actual course as was run at event #3, here on Strava - Rickmansworth parkrun #3.

Just before 9am, the first-timers briefing, followed by the full briefing were held on the grass outside the cafe. The day's 267 participants then relocated to the start line a bit further along the tarmac path, which is still officially Frogmoor Lane. It's worth pointing out that this part of Frogmoor lane is used as a vehicular access road for members of the sailing club whose car park is at the far end and it seemed to be in pretty frequent use.

bury lake circular walk path

Once the day's runners had parted to allow a vehicle through, we were sent on our way for a very pleasant journey on a two-lap (plus the start-finish tail), meandering, clockwise course around the aquadrome. After about 150 metres the course takes a left hand turn and we were away from any potential vehicle interaction. At this point, the runners effectively run between the two lakes (you can only see one). There is a bird feeding area on the left and some of the waterfowl are quite often on the path - watch out for their little, slippery, poopy presents.

This section is the 'Bury Lake Circular Walk' and it guides the runners around to the northern side of Bury Lake where the surroundings eventually start to become more wooded. About 800 metres into the lap, the course turns away from the lake and heads north where it meets the River Colne. The runners now follow the meandering, path (still tarmac) through woodland with the river to their left.

batchworth lake circular walk path

When the runners reach the northern tip of Batchworth Lake, they are 1.5km into their run and join the Batchworth Lake Circular Path which weaves its way around the eastern bank of the lake. Around this point, the tarmac path changes to a slightly bumpier, stonier path for a few hundred metres. The River Colne is still to the runner's left along here, and eventually the runners reach a right hand turn (just a whisker over 2k into the run) where the Colne meets the Grand Union Canal - you might catch a glimpse of it through a small doorway in the corner.

Now running along the southern bank of Batchworth Lake, the lap is almost complete. A small section of woodland is negotiated which includes a tiny bridge (be careful of the hole in one of the planks) after which the route pops out on Frogmoor Lane for about 50 metres and the second lap begins when the runners rejoin the 'Bury Lake Circular Path'. Another note I will make is that the park is very popular with dog walkers and I had a few moments where unleashed dogs ran across my path.

batchworth lake circular walk path

Once both laps are complete, the runners head back along the start-finish straight (again, keep an eye out for vehicles along here - there is a section for pedestrians but it's not always possible to stay in it due to its design) where they will find the finish line manned by the rather wonderful volunteers. A scanned barcode and finish token later, the hard work of the morning was complete and it was time to head into the Cafe in the Park for some well-earned refreshments. We had an expensive, but lovely breakfast and the coffee was out of this world. They also had a cool selection of children's books that really kept us all occupied.

After breakfast we hung around for a bit longer and watched the boats sailing on Bury Lake, and the sounds of the water lapping onto the shore were nice and relaxing. The results for event #3 were processed and online shortly after the run and I was pleased to have re-completed the Hertfordshire set and the London set (within the M25 version) of parkruns on the same day.

frogmoor lane / finish

We left at about midday having had a really nice morning out and headed towards central London for a family birthday. While driving along the A40 we saw the four huge man-made hills that reside in Northala Fields Country Park and I told my wife and daughter the story of their origin which tied in very nicely with the venue we had just visited. If you don't know the link, have a read of my Northala Fields parkrun blog.

Friday, 17 March 2017

parkrun bingo (and other games)

parkrun bingo is a fun game to play. The original idea (not mine) consists of trying to tick off all possible seconds from 0-59 that it's possible to run at a parkrun - the minutes are not important, so this challenge is totally inclusive. I've made a simple spreadsheet (below) to show my own progress.

I have also made a few other versions to expand the game (not all completely inclusive, but you could modify them to suit your own needs), which are 'finishing positions', 'event numbers', 'days of the week', and 'all dates of the year'.
The parkrun alphabet is similar to parkrun bingo, so I have added my progress in another tab (I've never actively worked on collecting specific letters, but as I've toured around I have naturally ticked off most of them without trying).

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Ridge Off Roader 10k 2017

I spent some time in early 2017 looking for a tough, scenic race to run on my 40th birthday, and after narrowing the choices down to a couple of options, I decided to go with the Ridge Off Roader which is run in the Chiltern Hills area of natural beauty. 2017 was the fifth running of the flagship 10k event, but this time it had been expanded to also include a half-marathon option, and while I was really tempted by the longer distance, I decided that on balance, the 10k would be the better option for me.

However, I didn't fully commit to the 10k race and I kept my options open until the day the online entries closed, and with just 9 spaces remaining, I finally put my entry in via the Run Britain website. As an affiliated runner I paid the £14 entry fee, while unaffiliated runners paid £16. I got a confirmation email and then an email containing the race day instructions, which was really handy.

ridge off roader 10k 2017 [photos: 7t]

On the day of the race, I headed over to Bledlow Ridge in Buckinghamshire which is where the race is based. The forecast was not great and during the drive, the rain came down pretty heavy. We arrived and parked in the race car park which was in a grass field adjacent to The Boot pub, it was a little muddy in the field so I changed straight into my trail shoes before leaving the car. Little did I knew at this stage that the car was going to get stuck in the mud after the race - thankfully some of the marshals helped to get us out by giving us a big push - thank you.

A five minute walk back down the main road eventually brought us out at Church Lane and Bledlow Ridge School, which was used as the race HQ. I went into the main hall to collect my race number, and while doing so, I was handed a birthday present from the organisers (I was one of three people running the race on their birthday). It was a really nice gesture which I really wasn't expecting, so thank you very much!

ridge off roader 10k 2017 [photos: 7t]

So with my number collected I watched as the half-marathon runners set off at 10am on their delightfully brutal 21km mission up, down and across the hilly Chilterns. This left me enough time to get changed into my shorts, have a little warm up and use the toilets, which were just outside the school in a car park - there were four portaloos and they seemed to handle the numbers pretty well.

In addition to the half-marathon and the 10k race, there were two children's races, a 1k and a 2k. I asked my daughter if she wanted to take part, but she's not really into regular running at the moment as she prefers obstacle course races. So after cheering the 2k runners on, and the time being 11.02am (that was the official race start time) the 10k race was finally ready to begin. We took up our places in Church Lane and once the children were all safely well clear of the route, we were sent on our way.

start line [photo: dani]

The opening section took place on the roads around Bledlow Ridge which were briefly closed to traffic to allow us to pass through safely and it was just over 1km before the first off-road section was reached. I took it nice and easy along here because I didn't want to burn myself out before the hard bits of the race! The first bit of mud was a bit of a shock to the system after settling into a nice steady pace on the road, but it didn't take long to find my cross-country legs and I flew down the steep off-road decline along the edge of a field.

After about 500 metres, we were sent back out onto a road (Slough Lane) where we had the first climb. While it was challenging, I had no idea at this stage that this would be the easiest hill of the race! Anyway, I passed a few runners on my way up and finally at the 2.3km point we reached the proper off-road part of the course where the first hill continued but diagonally across a field.

and we're off... [photos: dani]

About a mile of downhill and flat running followed but underfoot conditions did not make this easy - sometimes there was a little worn dirt path and others it was patchy clumps of grass to run on. Either way, a keen eye was required to avoid turning an ankle. The problem I was having at this is stage was that the light rain had covered my glasses and I could see clearly. Even so, I pushed on and overtook another runner. I should mention here that there were plenty of fab marshals out on the course, all very cheery despite the rainy conditions.

At the 4.3km point of the race, the next incline started. Underfoot was muddy and slippery and this added to the challenge. It was tough but runnable for a while and I hit the halfway point in just over 22 minutes. Almost immediately after passing the 5km marker, the hill got steeper. I continued to run at first, but soon realised that I had to slow down and walk for about 200 metres. While I was walking, I took the opportunity to clean my glasses with my Dartford Harriers singlet - not the ideal material for cleaning the lenses, but it was better than nothing.

at around 8km into the race [photo: barry cornelius (unedited)]

I had been closing in on another runner up until this point, and although he also walked, he managed to get running again before me and I never did manage to reel him back him in. The top of this ridge gave fantastic views in both directions and it momentarily took my mind off the pain I could feel in my legs and lungs. I was back running at this point and continued to pick up speed as I ran down a very steep and technical section through some woodland.

At 6.4km there was a water station. Also the 10k route and the half-marathon route met up here and there were a few more runners to interact with for the rest of the race - some were running at a pretty decent pace considering they had run eleven kilometres more than me at this point. I ran alongside a half marathon runner (identifiable by the black bib number, the 10k runners had blue numbers on our bibs) as we flew along a wooded section which was ever so slightly downhill - this was a lot of fun, but there were tree roots and branches to look out for. At 8km, there was a photographer from on the course and he got a couple of nice shots of me - the photos were offered to runners for free and this was one of the factors that swung me towards entering this particular race - so I'd like to add a special thank you Barry Cornelius for them.

at around 8km [photo: barry cornelius (unedited)]

By the time I had reached the 8.3km point, I was feeling good, but there was another climb looming. After a very short section on tarmac we turned into another muddy field and continued to plod away uphill - I was assured by a marshall that this was the last hill. There was a brief respite from the climbing as I hurtled downhill for about 100 metres or so, but then it was back to climbing. For the second time in this race I was reduced to walking, as was everyone else around me.

At the top I managed to get my legs moving again, but it was very muddy and I splattered my way through it as I passed along next to the field where we had parked the car. Then, with one kilometre left to go, the course changed back to tarmac and I could finally pick up the pace again. Hurtling down the pavement towards the school, I remember the road from my walk earlier that morning. A marshal soon directed me back into Church Lane and another pointed into the school grounds where there was one final but of slightly muddy grass to run on which looped round to the finish line!

finish [photos: dani]

I grabbed a quick hug from my daughter who I had seen running towards the finish line from across the school field and the race director wished me a happy birthday over the loudspeaker system, which was another really nice gesture and really made my day. I had a medal and a couple of goody bags handed to me and I found my wife who had managed to take a few photos of me as I came hurtling back into the finish area - again, thank you!

The results were published later that day and I had finished in 9th position out of 185 runners in the 10k event, which I was very happy with. To give you an idea of how tough the course was, in my current shape, I would expect to run a flat, road 10k in under 41 minutes. My official time for this race was 46.59 so that's roughly six minutes extra, which was fine because this race was never about going for a quick time. It was all about running in a beautiful location and having a lot of fun (in the mud) in the process, both of which I can confirm were successful!

medal and present from the organisers - thank you! [photos: dani / 7t]


Full official results: Ridge Off-Roader 10k 2017
GPS data: Ridge Off-Roader 10k 2017 (Strava)
Position: 9th / 185
Time: 46.59

Clacton Seafront parkrun

Claccingaton (meaning: the village of clacc's people) is the first recorded name for what is now known as Clacton-on-Sea, which is in Essex. In the Domesday Book of 1086 it was recorded as the village of Clachintuna. Fast forward to the 19th century and Clacton was still a peaceful village. So when, in the 1860's, a large site of land was purchased and plans put forward to turn the village into a seaside resort, the residents of the village were not pleased.

Despite their objections, the plans for expansion were given the go-ahead. The Thorpe and Great Clacton Railway Act was passed which granted permission for the railway to be extended into Clacton and for the construction of a 300 yard long pier. These projects were completed during 1871 and they marked the beginning of the town of Clacton.

clacton seafront

In 1911, an archaeologist working in a palaeochannel ('a remnant of an inactive river or channel which has been filled or buried by younger sediment' - wiki) when he discovered the remains of a giant elephant and hippopotamus. Also discovered were 400,000 year old flint tools (the manufacture of these tools is known as Clactonian) and a wooden spear tip which is now on display in the Natural History Museum, in London.

The town has continued to grow and now has a population of around 50,000 - of whom a significant proportion are retired. Modern-day Clacton-on-Sea is very much an entertainment-centric seaside resort. The central part of the seafront and the pier is home to amusement arcades, fairground rides and fish and chip shops.

start and beginning of outbound section

Heading west along the seafront, the noise from the arcades disappears and everything feels a little more relaxed, and this is where we find Clacton Seafront parkrun. The event started on 15 October 2016 and is currently attracting around 100 participants per week. We drove over to Clacton and parked up on Marine Parade West which is the road that runs along the seafront - the spot we picked allowed parking for cars only (no caravans etc) for up to 24 hours free of charge.

The meeting place for the run is on the seafront promenade adjacent to the 'Martello coach and car park' (if you can't find a space on the road, park here) and the Toby Carvery which is clearly visible from the road. For anyone that has cycled to the venue, I spotted some cycle racks on the road side of the Toby Carvery. According to the venue's course information page, anyone travelling here by train will need to factor in a walk of 23 minutes (very precise!).

along the upper promenade

On the day I visited (also my last parkrun in the 35-39 age category), the run director gave the briefing a few minutes before 9am but as it was finished at 8.58am, we had just over a minute to kill before starting (the same thing happened just down the road at Harwich parkrun when I visited there - must be an Essex seaside thing! lol). So at 9am sharp we were sent on our 5k run along the seafront.

The course is run over three out and back laps plus a short start finish tail. Underfoot is tarmac so it's a road shoe course and buggy runners will be fine here. After heading along the short start tail, the course joins the 'lap' when it reaches the point where the promenade splits into upper and lower levels (just next to Greensward Adventure Golf).

the downward slope / lower promenade

The reason the course is labelled as three laps is because the outbound leg stays on the upper prom and the return is along the lower prom. While heading along the outward stretch, which is shared-use people-cyclist path, runners will not fail to notice that there is a slight incline as they run past the open grass lawn, children's play area and boat pond to their left. The lawn soon gives way to a series of themed gardens - a Sensory Garden, Mediterranean Garden, and a 1920's Garden.

There's also a Garden of Remembrance opposite the pier, but before reaching it, the runners do a 180 degree turn and head down a steep slope (quite narrow) which leads down to the lower promenade. Now adjacent to the beach, the runners head back in the direction they came from. There are some murals to look out for and some cool beach huts to admire during this stretch.

lower promenade

An important note that I'd make about the lower prom is that there did seem to be some (very slow) vehicle movement down here, so it's worth being aware of this. As the runners reach the end of the lower stretch they may notice a large stone on their right which marks the spot where a naval seaplane carrying Sir Winston Churchill made a forced landing.

Immediately after this, the is another tight right hand turn which returns the runners back to the outbound section of the course. When the out and back lap has been completed three times, the runners can then continue onto the finishing straight where they will catch a glimpse of a martello tower in the distance and find the finish funnel. If you run this all-out you'll be relieved to find that there is a small wall next to the finish funnel which you will feel compelled to can lean on while you try to take in as much fresh sea air as possible in order to recover.

end of lap / finish

When I visited, barcode scanning took place inside the The Beach Diner and this is also used as the post-run social and refreshments venue. This opens from 8.30am and parkrun participants can use the cafe toilets. There are other toilets on the lower prom, but the opening times for these are somewhat ambiguous, the small sign simply states that they will be open by 9am. When I arrived at 8.20am, they were open but obviously that may not be the case every week. There is another toilet block on the lower prom next to the pier (I did not check the opening times of this block).

With the run finished, we continued with our day-trip in Clacton. We went onto the pier which is mostly full of more arcades and funfair rides. The pier gives a brilliant vantage point for the Clacton Air Show which takes place during August and usually features a visit from the Red Arrows. To top it off, the event is free-of-charge - I remember visiting for the air show years ago with my parents and had a great time.


The results for event 22 had been processed and were online by late morning, so I had a look at those while we had some chips on the seafront. Afterwards we had a game of mini golf in 'Greensward Adventure Golf'. By mid-afternoon we'd had lots of fresh sea air and decided to hit the road back home. We'd had a very enjoyable visit to Clacton and may even return for the air show later this year.

As always I recorded the run with Strava, so if you want to see the GPS data, please feel free to do so, here: Clacton Seafront parkrun #22

Related link: The Essex parkrun venues

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Run>Dartford Summer Series venue guide

The Run>Dartford Summer Series of races started in 2016 and takes place on Friday evenings over five months in five different venues in Dartford. The difference with this races series is that the results and prizes are done by age-grading rather than finishing time. It is a great, friendly, low-key series that puts an emphasis on being inclusive, with club runners asked to leave their club vests at home to help newcomers feel less intimidated and more at home.

Full info on the series can be found here: Run>Dartford

Dartford Heath
Distance: 5 kilometres
Course: Two laps
Underfoot: off-road - dirt paths, gravel, grass
Profile: Mostly flat but has a couple of short undulations
GPS data: Run>Dartford: Dartford Heath 5k
Further reading: My Dartford Heath 5k 2016 blog post

Dartford Central Park
Distance: 4 miles
Course: 3-and-a-bit laps around the park
Underfoot: Mostly tarmac but has a section on grass and dirt paths
Profile: Mostly flat but each lap has an incline to run up
GPS data: Run>Dartford: Dartford Central Park 4 Miler
Further reading: My Dartford Central Park 4M 2016 blog post

Darenth Valley Country Park
Distance: 2 Miles (3x2 miles relay - runners grouped into teams by the organisers)
Course: A single 2 mile lap
Underfoot: Mostly grass, dirt and gravel paths
Profile: Hilly
GPS data: Run>Dartford: Darenth Valley Country Park 2 Mile Relay
Further reading: My Darenth Valley Country Park 3x2M Relay blog post

Thames River Path
Distance: 10km
Course: Out and back along the Thames River Path next to (and under) the Dartford Crossing (QE2 bridge)
Underfoot: Mixture of dirt paths and gravelly paths plus a little bit of concrete
Profile: Flat
GPS data: Run>Dartford: Thames River Path 10k
Further reading: My Thames River Path 10k 2016 blog post

Central Park Athletics Track (new race/venue for 2017)
Distance: 2,000m
Course: 5 laps of the Central Park Athletics Track
Underfoot: Track
Profile: Flat
GPS Data: DHAC Track 2,000m
Further reading: New race for 2017 - no blog yet

Joydens Wood (only used during the 2016 series)
Distance: 5 kilometres
Course: Tough course around the woods
Underfoot: Forest trails - dirt paths
Profile: Hilly
GPS data: Run>Dartford: Joydens Wood 5k 2016
Further reading: My Joydens Wood 5k 2016 blog post

the 2016 series medal [photo: 7t]

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